“Isn’t it a little late to be in the park?” A voice roused Jared from his spot on the bench.
He rose to see a man in a blue uniform watching him with a bag of groceries in one hand.
“I mean, I can appreciate a nap, but that looks uncomfortable.”
Jared jumped to his feet. “Uh,yeah, sir. I was just, uhm, resting, uhm, on my way home.” He tried not to stare at the badge that proclaimed him as Officer Wise, the pins on the lapels, or the scar that trailed down one eye to the corner of his mouth like a pink tear.
“You don’t have a place to go, do you?”
“Is… that really the issue here?” Jared glanced around at the waning light.
Officer Wise looked confused. “What?”
Jared backed until his legs touched the bench and he could feel his backpack resting against him. “That is, are you asking me if I know what I’ve done wrong?” He managed to keep his voice from cracking.
“I’m not a cop.” Officer Wise shook his head to wipe away the confusion on his face. “But I could refer you to one, if you want.”
“No!” Jared blurted. “I, uh… whoo. I’m glad you’re not a cop.”
“Because you don’t have a place to sleep tonight and Colorado’s got a thing about homeless setting up camp in parks.”
“Come on. I’ve got a place you can sleep for the night.” The officer tilted his head towards a white SUV. “Might even get a good meal in you.” He looked back and studied the young person. “And a shave.”
Jared found himself running his hand over his cheeks. But, he followed the officer to the car. He tossed his backpack into the trunk of the car while the officer pulled out his phone and dialed a number.
“Hey, beautiful. How’re you doing?”A smile graced the officer’s lips that curved the scar on his cheek. “No, everything’s fine. I’m on my way home now. Listen, I’ve got a guest coming home with me. It’s a college student, I think. No, I’ll still cook. I just need you to pull out an extra chicken breast. Thanks. I love you.” Once the phone had been hung up, he put the car into drive and headed down the road about ten minutes to a nearly invisible driveway on right.
“It’s not a lot, but it’s home.”
‘Home’ was nearly obscured by the fruit trees that grew around the house and down the front walkway. Huddled around each of the trees were berry bushes. Under each of the outsides windows were planter boxes filled with herbs, including a few that Jared recognized as common potion ingredients. Past all of those was a Victorian house in shades of grey with lavender trim.
Two girls ran down the front steps as soon as the car stopped. Jared had to stop and make sure he wasn’t descending into hallucinations. Aside from one having curly blonde hair and the other with straight, darker blonde hair, the two looked exactly alike. Especially when they wrapped their arms around Officer Wise’s neck, one in each of his arms. A woman watched from the front door, wearing a leather apron over her dress.
“Good evening, my dear.” The officer said as he kissed his wife on the cheek.
“Welcome home, Matt. Who’s our guest tonight?”
“He’s…. ah…” The officer turned to Jared.
“I’m Jared. Jared Sinclair.”
“He is Jared. Former sleeper on benches. If you can show him to the spare bedroom, I’ll change out of work and start dinner.” Wise set the two girls down and led the way into the house. His wife opened a door between the kitchen and the bathroom to a small room covered in drawings. Many of them were the scribbles of children with crayons, but a few of them were crayon drawings with very careful attention to color and design. Even fewer were the black pieces of paper with white drawings on them.
When Officer Wise returned, he was wearing a pair of board shorts and a pink shirt that read “real men eat cupcakes”. “Pull up a seat in the kitchen, we’ll get your life story out of you by the time dinner’s ready.”
Jared started talking while he watched chicken come out of a thick marinade and skewered with the help of two eager assistants on stools. Those were placed on a grill in the center of the stove.
“You got any time limits to your little quest?” Wise motioned with a large kitchen knife he was using to mince small tomatoes that were a deep shade of purple.
“Not really. My family’s thinking I’ll only be gone a few months.”
“So basically you’re going to wander ’til you find something worth sticking around for.” Matt gave that kind of smile that said he understood.
“Or until I’m internationally renowned for my breakthroughs on wands, whichever comes first.” Jared shrugged.
“Also a noteworthy goal.” Matt nodded. “Well, I’m going to go out on a limb and-“
“Yes, it’s okay.” Matt’s wife said as she walked through the kitchen and into a back room.
“-say you can stay a couple of days. We’ve got some space in the workroom you can set up shop and test out some of the things you picked up.” Matt finished and dumped the tomatoes into a pot. “Lilly, Clara, the table needs to be set.” He pointed past Jared to the dining room. “Can you two get a head start on that for me?”
The two girls jumped off their stools and hurried to obey.
Dinner ended up being something called chicken tikka. The chicken was served over rice and a tomato-y, creamy sauce that felt thicker and earthier than it actually was. Throughout the meal, Matt talked about his daughters, his time as an officer at Territorial Correctional Facility, and how he had met his wife. Jared still never got her name because Officer Wise kept referring to her as beautiful, my dear, or my darling. She was, however, a very talented potion maker and her regular customer ranged from the dregs of Canon City to some of the aristocrats of Denver and beyond. It was a job she could do from home so she could also manage Lilly and Clara. Lilly had to have a never-ending supply of books, notebook paper, and pens while Clara needed bows and arrows, a jungle gym, and the rock wall that Matt had built into their room.
Matt’s wife picked up the dishes after eating, and Matt pulled Jared and his bag into the workroom. He pushed aside some blue prints and helped Jared set up his wand lathe and tools.
“Let’s see something.” Matt’s eyes widened. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
“Okay. If you insist.” Jared pulled out the two halves of his willow wand. Then he pulled out the lock of Prussia’s hair and laid it out on the table. “You wouldn’t happen to have a blade powerful enough to cut through Rapunzel hair, would you?”
Matt whistled. “I wish. I’m not even sure I want to know what you did to get that much hair.”
Jared settled on leaving the hair intact and trailing from the handle end of the wand. Delicately, he braided a portion of the hair into a rope about as wide as a leg on Matt’s glasses. Then the braid was fitted into the wand body halves and fitted the ring over it.
“Could I get you to take notes?” Jared asked sheepishly.
“Sure thing.” Matt accepted the notebook and pen that Jared pulled from his bag.
“Okay, here’s my test of a willow wand and rapunzel hair core. Charm spell.” Jared raised his arm, wrapped the trailing braid of hair around his arm, raised his arm again, swished the wand and with a flick shouted, “Wingardium Leviosa!” He aimed the wand at his backpack. A beam of red light shot from the tip and hit the backpack on one of the straps. That strap rose into the air, tugging the backpack a few inches off the ground.
“Dude.” Matt watched from behind the notebook. “That worked.”
“It did. Sort of. Write that only the exact target levitated. Usually the spell is all-inclusive of the object it hits.”
Jared tried the spell again with an attack, a defense, and a curse. The attack burned a hole through his backpack in the exact shape of the beam that hit it. The defense only defended along the path of the beam.
“That could make it like a sword or something.” Matt noted.
The curse couldn’t even be distinguished. Jared tried again and again, but nothing really happened to his bag aside from a funny smell a little like cumin.
“Can I give it a shot?” Matt held out his hand.
“You want to try an experimental wand?”
Matt nodded, his eyes a little wider than Jared remembered seeing them.
“Okay, I guess.” Jared passed Matt the wand.
Matt took a stance and aimed the wand at the empty corner of the workroom. “Expecto Patronum!” The red beam emerged again only it faded to a blue by the time it reached the wall where it shook and shivered into the shape of a small, footstool shaped dog.
“Your patronus is a dog?” Jared watched the animal scrabbled towards them through the air.
“A corgi, yeah.” Matt set his hands on his hips to admire his work. ” It looks kind of grainy. Like one of those old-school television programs.”
Jared nodded. “It’s a good start for this core. I’m going to have to run a lot more tests first, but this is great information.”
“A start?” Matt looked confused. The corgi’s image fuzzed for a moment.
“Yeah. I need to test it with all of the wand bodies I’ve made. Plus the ones I still have to get.” Jared offered half a smile.
“Well, best of luck to you on that.” Matt swept the wand in front of him and the patronus washed away. Then he handed the wand back to Jared handle-first. “Well, I think I’m going to leave you to your tests. I’ve got to get the girls down for bed.” He turned and had almost closed the door behind him when he turned. “Thanks for letting me help you on that. You don’t see stuff like that anymore.”
“Stuff like what?” Jared set the wand on the work table.